The ukulele — that small, stringed instrument with a light and pretty tone — has seen a resurgence in recent years and is being played by musicians in many different genres. The Beatles’ George Harrison traveled with two ukuleles in a suitcase wherever he went, giving him the ability to find somebody to jam with anywhere, at any time without worrying about lugging around his guitars.
The ukulele initially took off as an instrument of choice in Hawaii. Brought to the islands by Portuguese immigrants in the late 1880s, it was dubbed the ukulele by native Hawaiians who had fallen in love with the “little guitar.” There have been many great ukulele players over the years, including Eddie Kamae, Ohta-San, Peter Moon, Bennie Nawahi and the pioneering Ernest Kaai. But perhaps the two most famous are Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole and Jake Shimabukuro. The beloved Kamakawiwo’ole, who died in 1997, has been called the Bob Marley of Hawaii, while Shimabukuro, who is still very much with us, is considered the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele. Both tags are daunting, yet they do ring true, as Kamakawiwo’ole’s music, especially his stripped-down version of “Over The Rainbow,” is considered timeless and universal, while Shimabukuro has brought sounds out of the ukulele that no one thought possible.
When Shimabukuro comes to town, he will bring his incredible instrumental prowess, unique arrangements and musical heart to the stage. His versions of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” are wonderful, as are his original tunes. For an excellent primer, look up Shimabukuro’s version of Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on YouTube; the clip was uploaded a decade ago and has received over 14 million hits and counting.
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